Nimr Jamal
Year 24
Month 06
Day 07
Breaking The Silence

Breaking The Silence (BtS) (Hebrew: שוברים שתיקה‎‎ Shovrim Shtika) is an Israeli Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) established by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans who collect and provide testimonies about their military service in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem since the Second Intifada.

Breaking The Silence describes himself in official website as such: "Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel's security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that what is done in its name. Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the Territories, and the silence about this reality they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled."

 


History
In 2004, Avichai Sharon, Yehuda Shaul and Noam Chayut exhibited a series of photographs and written accounts by IDF soldiers who had served in the city of Hebron. The three wanted to force citizens of Israel to "confront the truth about its policies."[8] The exhibition was attended by thousands of people. Afterward, the three men founded Breaking the Silence (BtS), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that serves ex-service personnel of the IDF by confidentially collecting and recording their testimonies of military experiences. It has published several works of collected accounts. The NGO has attracted hundred of members.

Shaul, who had served with the IDF Nachal unit's 50th battalion in Hebron, completing two tours of duty, was the first executive director of BtS. In 2007 he became its foreign relations director, as the organization was seeking outside support to help its refuseniks and their families directly, as well as general funding for its programs. It has been successful in gaining support from some church groups in various countries, as well as some direct support from some European governments.

That year Mikhael Manekin became director of BtS. The organisation's main goal is "to break the silence and taboo surrounding the behaviour of Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian territories".

The Israeli political establishment has been hostile to the activities of the organization since it was founded in 2004. Government pressure particularly increased after the group disclosed confessions from soldiers who took part in the 2008-2009 bombing of the Gaza Strip. These generated widespread public controversy about Israeli military actions.

 


Mission 
The organization's stated mission is to 'break the silence' of IDF soldiers who return to civilian life in Israel and "discover the gap between the reality which they encountered in the [occupied] territories, and the silence which they encounter at home." Since 2004, Breaking the Silence has run a testimonies collection project called "Soldiers Speak Out." They have collected over 1,000 testimonies from "those who have, during their service in the IDF, the Border Guard, and the Security Forces, played a role in the Occupied Territories." By publishing soldiers' accounts, BtS hopes to "force Israeli society to address the reality which it created" and face the truth about "abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property" under this process, which soldiers have encountered.

 

Funding
Breaking the Silence (BtS) has been receiving direct and indirect funding from various European governments for many years. According to annual reports, donations from foreign countries comprised 65 percent of total donations, from 2012 to 2014. In addition, in December 2015, following inquiries from NGO Monitor, the EU disclosed that it was providing to BtS an additional €236,000 (~1 million NIS)  in 2015-2017, under a project titled “Educating for Change: Human Rights Education in Israeli Society.”

 


Activities
Breaking the Silence (BtS) “collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada,” claiming that the “testimonies portray a…grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians [which] demonstrate the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military…Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name.
Active in promoting “war crimes” charges against Israel. These charges were based on anonymous and unverifiable hearsay “testimonies.”
Although claiming to address Israeli society, the NGO’s lobbying and media advocacy focus on international audiences, including presentations in Europe and the United States. Yehuda Shaul, BtS co-founder, defended this practice: “Sometimes, when you want to deliver messages to the inside, you must go outside.”
Between September 2012 – June 2016, BtS held more then 80 lectures, exhibitions and events across Europe, America, South Africa and Australia (See map below).
In June 2016, Ben-Gurion University canceled a NIS 20,000 reward to Breaking the Silence because it is “not in the national consensus”. In response, the New Israel Fund published a Facebook post announcing that it will donate NIS 20,000 to BtS and accused Ben-Gurion University of canceling the prize because it is concerned “that it might be the target of the next campaign”.

 


In June 14, 2016, Israeli new site NRG published a video documenting BtS co-founder, Yehuda Shaul, telling tourists in Israel that “Yeah, One of the villages, this village actually, its new that they came back, because few years ago the settlers basically poisoned all the water cisterns of the village…” This allegation is completely unsubstantiated, and was never proven. It appears to be based on a single compliant from 2004 which investigated by the Israeli police and was closed due to lack of evidence. (See below: Anti-Israeli campaigns using Breaking the Silence).
BtS refuses to comply with the Israeli government request to provide the information on an incident documented in a former soldier’s testimony which reflects an alleged crime. This resulted in a court hearing in May 23 where the state sought an order that the NGO provide all the information it has on the case. BtS argued that that they should be allowed to “protect their sources” similarly to journalists, despite their lack of engagement in journalistic activities.
On January 11, 2016, Israel’s leading nightly news program on Channel 2 aired footageof Ezra Nawi, a radical activist from the NGO “Ta’ayush,” visiting the offices of Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS). There, a BtS employee provided Nawi with NIS 1,400 in cash. It is unclear what services were rendered to warrant such a payment, but Channel 2 showed footage of Nawi writing checks for Palestinians, ostensibly for taking part in protests that he, himself, planned.
In summer 2015, during a training session in BtS office, Nadav Weiman, the activists’ coordinator, explained that “most of the Palestinians are not terrorists, but fighters for their freedom, sometimes with means I don’t agree with. The word terrorists – I find it hard. Although whoever murders a baby in its bed is a terrorist… If you try to kill soldiers you are not a terrorist. This is also according to international law”. He continued: “If there is a country that occupies your country, in the area you live in, you are allowed to use violent means against the occupier- only against soldiers and policemen or border police. Not against civilians…” Weiman added that “Refusal [to serve in the army] is legitimate, but we don’t encourage it…”
In a video published by Ad Kan, Weiman explains the NGO’s role in providing data to international political actors: “You don’t understand who we are outside of Israel…the diplomatic community… ok, Yehuda [Shaul], you won’t fund anyone who doesn’t know Yehuda… ambassadors and parliament members… outside of Israel we are the voice that is considered very reliable and critical that lets say if they want information they approach us… Yehuda takes ambassadors, consuls, and parliament members every week. Just now he was with American Congress members who arrived in Israel… no one knows they are here. But they came and Yehuda took them on a tour.”

 


In May 2015, NGO Monitor revealed that following the 2009 Gaza conflict, several BtS donors conditioned the transfer of money to the group on its ability to gather a minimum number of incriminating “testimonies” against the Israeli army.
In 2010 BtS published a highly tendentious book titled Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier testimonies 2000-2010, which claimed to provide a counter to the “official Israeli position” on IDF actions in the territories. NGO Monitor analysis has revealed that this book was rife with methodological problems and appeared to tailor the testimonies to predetermined “analyses” that falsely claimed that Israeli actions are not aimed at self-defense but at “terrorizing the civilian population.”
This book was later re-published under the title Our Harsh Logic and translated into Swedish, German, and Dutch. The launching of the book in the various languages served as a platform for further demonization and delegitmization of Israel, including accusations of “racism” and alleged “political assassinations” of Palestinians, claims that Gaza is still “occupied,” and implying that Israel is ethnically cleansing “area C.”

 


Analysis by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz: “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer. The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.” (July 17, 2009)
BtS members and anti-Israel activists Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were on the “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” boat “Irene,” which sought to violate Israel’s security-based policies regarding naval traffic into Gaza (September 2010).
During a BtS event at a museum in Sweden (March 2011), Itamar Shapira stated that “We [Israelis] are creating the terror against us.”
Conducts tours to Hebron and the South Hebron Hills to “witness first hand the dire situation.” Criticized by Israeli police officials for “antagoniz[ing]…settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them.”


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